Firearms and Fingertips is a new play by writer James Shaw that has been performed over five nights at the Black-E. A show aimed at teenagers and described as “an anti gun crime theatre/mixed-media production” mightn’t sound like the most alluring prospect for an old get such as myself, but this was certainly worth a look.
Although the subject of gun crime raises all kinds of issues, Shaw and the company insisted they didn’t want to preach and were essentially true to that goal. If anything, the play credited its audience, especially the teens watching, with having a bit more common sense than wanting to get involved with or glamorise the gangster lifestyle. If anything, this was more about using a relevant subject as a hook to introduce theatre to young people.
The show began with doctors trying to save the life of 15-year-old shooting victim Spencer (newcomer Kaia Medcalf), before moving the story on in two strands: One watching his friends and family willing him back to life around his hospital bed, the other a parallel state of limbo where he is confronted by two ‘agents of death’, there to keep an eye on him until “The Grim” arrives.
The agents, Chalice and Brown (Alice Robinson and Susan Swanton) held the piece together with their mix of dark humour and slapstick. Dressed like they had lost their way to the Rocky Horror Show, their disorienting comedy banter twinned with their blase regard for human life made them puzzling, and almost scary. Their creepy takes on The X Factor and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire had a familiarity but were not gratuitous devices.
It is hard to hold the attention of groups of young people in a theatre setting, which is why the ghoulish characters of Chalice and Brown worked so well. They teased and intrigued the audience, as well as providing some real belly laughs.The use of music from DJ Rasp, too, helped to blur the boundaries of traditional theatre. The soundtrack wasn’t even particularly modern, for all that is worth; think The Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon and Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang, even a bit of Chicago. It didn’t patronise or talk down to the audience and nor, as these things usually do, did it “over-Scouse” itself.
Robinson and Swanton’s improvisation skills and the willingness to break the fourth wall also served to make their point about introducing young people to theatre and offering something completely different to what they might have been been expecting. As I said before, the production credits its audience with common sense, but also forces them to consider the consequences of Spencer’s actions and the impact of his decisions on others. Sometimes, what is done can’t be undone.
The ending, too, was unconventional in a way, but it worked. The projection of a specially made rap video that nicely tied up the end of Spencer’s journey was not only a well-constructed song in its own right but looked the part and really made an impact. Original, entertaining and inventive, Firearms and Fingertips isn’t what you’d expect from a play like this and proves to be a modern-day morality tale with a twist.